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Fixing Chloe

I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon in the studio with my 15-year-old step-daughter Chloe. I recorded her singing a song that she has loved ever since her mother played it for her – “Little House” by Amanda Seyfried. It was featured in the movie Dear John.

Chloe loves to sing in front of people, to be the center of someone’s (anyone’s) attention. She absolutely lives to sing in front of her mother and I, and does most nights before she goes to bed.

Another salient fact: Chloe has only a very tenuous grasp of melody and rhythm. In the life of a special-needs child cast into a world of more typical children, there are so few moments of joy. When she launches into another of her favorite songs and sometimes gets so caught up in the moment that she adds a few impromptu gestures, and checks for our accepting smiles, she has a fleeting moment of pleasure. Perhaps the only one she has had that day.

And so it was in fulfillment of a promise made several months ago that I sat at my console and recorded Chloe singing seven takes of “Little House”. She sang like a trooper, though with each take Chloe’s voice and attention grew a little more fatigued, and that tenuous grasp began to slip.

My software allows me to clean up messy vocals – pitch, timing, all of that. And so I worked into the night – until about 1:30 AM, and I got through about half way the song. I was a man possessed.

Through the magic of software, I heard Chloe sing like never before.

Through the software, she nailed the timing. Her pitch was beautifully perfect. Her expression was innocent, yet powerful. I heard a girl who held a thousand wishes for a life beyond the challenges she was born with. “Little House” is a love song, and I heard an effervescent hope that one day someone would love her as a woman. I spent several hours listening to that girl that night, and I treasured being the one to bring her out where everyone could hear her for the first time.

When I awoke Sunday morning and as my wife (who went to bed at a sensible time) handed me a hot cup of coffee, the three of us headed into the studio to listen to what I had done. As the song played, tears leaked inexplicably from my eyes. It wasn’t until the coffee had soaked in a little that I understood why.

That girl I worked so hard to bring out last night sounded so mechanical, so automatic. She was not alive. She was a man-made thing. While the actual Chloe raved that she sounded like a rock star, all I could hear was the missing life – the essence of the girl who has been a part of my life for the last few years. The life that Chloe herself has in her.

As I had worked thought the night I had lived with a Chloe that had been fixed. She was no longer troubled. She was no longer a slave to her jagged emotions, her ADHD, and her learning disabilities. This was not a Chloe that struggled with empathy, had difficulty keeping friends, or lived in danger of school suspension. My manufactured Chloe was free of all of that. But this FrankenChloe was a chimera. I sat in the morning light with the real Chloe, and looked inside myself.

I saw clearly how hoping that she might one day be “fixed” makes me a step-dad who is unwilling to accept the child that is. It makes me someone with a standard to which she never quite measures up.

The real Chloe, with all of her life, her energy, her hopes of getting a new American Girl Doll for her birthday, demanding that we watch her multiple underwater somersaults in the pool, needing constant supervision and unflagging attention – that is the Chloe that we have. And THAT is the Chloe that is vibrantly alive.

That is the Chloe that I promised I would cherish and honor, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, when I made that vow to her mother. Although the voice on that song remains, much to the delight of my step-daughter, I realize again that I cannot fix this very real, incredibly alive girl. I realize again that she doesn’t actually need to be fixed. She needs to be loved, cherished, and honored.

I ask myself again – am I doing enough of that?

Update – January 15, 2015

Chloe’s song is finished!

You can listen to it here:

18 thoughts on “Fixing Chloe

  1. Philip, what a blessing you are to my life and to that of our children. I am thankful for you each and every day. This post is so beautiful — it shows a glimpse of your incredible heart to the world. It takes a lot of courage to be so vulnerable. I’m so glad you shared the gift that Chloe is in our lives. You are amazing! xoxo

    1. Thank you, my love. You have brought so many blessings into my life, including this special girl.

  2. What a great man you are Phillip. Chloe is a very very lucky girl to have you as a father.

    1. Thank you, Debra – that’s very kind. Thank you so much as well for taking the time to read, and share the “Chloe Experience” with me for a few moments.

  3. Reading your incredible article I was moved so much and I came to the realization that the world is always trying to fix special need children, when in reality they are just perfect the way they are. It’s not change they need, but acceptance. And as I watch my 15 year old autistic grandson smiling at his own funny logic, I think that is just perfect too!! You are an amazing dad, and your daughter is a special girl, she’s perfect too!! And it’s exactly the way God made them.

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. I have fallen prey to this way of thinking several times in the past few years, but somehow always come up against a reminder that things are exactly as they are supposed to be. This time it was the music that Chloe and I were working on together. I love how you are able to simply appreciate and treasure your grandson, exactly as he is, exactly as he is supposed to be.

      I wish I could say that I got this – I don’t need this lesson anymore. But I do know myself, and I know my step-daughter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a week I was gritting my teeth and angry and begging God for one of us to be properly medicated. :-) But I do get the lesson a little more every day.

  4. Philip. Wow. You are such an amazing person. As you are so blessed to have Chloe and her family…they are also so blessed to have you. I can’t wait to share this with my brother and sister in law. I don’t know if you remember but my niece Chloe, my brothers first child was born with spina bifida. Chloe is an angel and guides over us everyday. Angelica, my brothers second child is autistic. She faces many challenges every day but always has a smile on her face. She teaches me so much and reminds us all to look within ourselves. Your story of “fixing chloe” is so inspiring and mindful. I miss your beautiful smile and always smile myself when I see the posts of you and Lisa. True soul mates.

    1. Thank you, Sue – and it was lovely to meet Stephanie via Facebook and hear about Angelica. I do remember your telling me about your brother’s first daughter Chloe. Thank you for taking the time to comment so warmly, and for sharing this with your family. I miss you too – Please give my regards to the crew – I will stop by one of these days and say hello.

  5. I have tears running down my face at the beauty and honesty of this post. Chloe is a lucky young lady to have you as her bonus dad. Lisa and you very lucky to have each other and this beautiful young lady teaching you about love and acceptance.

    Brenda Lynn

    1. I LOVE the term ‘Bonus Dad’ – I’m going to keep that! Thank you for the sweet encouragement, Brenda.

  6. Philip,

    That was such a beautiful story and such an amazing experience for you, Chloe and Lisa. I’ve been having a lot of major life revelations somewhat like this lately. Maybe we’ve all reached a reflective sort of age. It was brave of you to share this – not that there’s any reason you shouldn’t have – I just find it hard to share really vulnerable moments like this. So, this may seem a little weird for me to say this, but thanks for sharing. It makes me feel closer to my old friend, and that makes me feel warm and lovely. Best to you, Chloe, Lisa and Devon.

    1. Thank you, Jill!! I think you’re right – we ARE at a more reflective age. Yeah – it was a little hard to write about this, but I really felt it was something we needed to share. Lisa and I try to be very careful in putting things out there about our family – who knows how it may hurt when they discover it online one day.

      And you’re welcome for sharing. :-) Thank you for taking the time to read it. I love your thoughts – and I know what you mean.

      Lisa sends her love. The kids would too, if we could remember what we did with them. (-;

  7. What a beautiful post ! Of course I cried while reading this. Philip you are a blessing to so many! We are all lucky to have you in our lives!

    1. Thank you, Lisa!! You are a blessing to us as well – and I can’t WAIT to see you at Market.

      Thank you for reading this – and for letting me know you that it moved you – especially to tears. My wife and I were both dabbing our eyes when I read the first draft to her. Well, it might have been a little more than that. All in all, it was a pretty emotional weekend.

  8. OK, I made the mistake of reading this at work, at my desk…no sobbing! So beautifully written!
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Off to the ladies room to fix this face! ;)

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Deb. Maybe I should put NSFW in the title – “not safe for work” :-)

  9. I am just sobbing over here! What a true blessing this is. I am sure for all of you. To see you being an advocate for Chloe and coming to some personal realizations is just heart warming and moving to my soul. Having a blended family ourselves with kids that have huge personalities and need special attention this touched by soul. Thank you Phillip for sharing this. Love you and Lisa!

    Now I need to run to the bathroom and clean my face up before a meeting.

    1. Thank you, Dana – you’re so sweet to share this. Becoming an advocate for kids is hard! Not because of who they are, but because of who I am – stubborn, full of expectations, and busy. Very busy. :-) Lisa sends her love, and I cant thank you enough for reaching out here to give your encouragement.

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